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Sappi Saiccor pulp mill pollution, South Africa


The Sappi Saiccor mill is situated next to the Mkhomazi River a short distance upstream from the coastal town of Umkomaas in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa.

The mill takes fresh water from the Mkhomazi river and uses energy derived from dirty coal to convert wood fibre from mostly alien Eucalyptus tree plantations into cellulose for export markets.

However it also generates much atmospheric pollution which spreads into surrounding community areas. Liquid effluent is pumped out to sea, and solid waste in the form of ash and sludge is dumped onto farmland in the vicinity of the mill.

Over the years there have been incidents of poisoning of workers and children due to the accidental release of toxic gases. People in surrounding communities complain of illness due to the polluted air and dust they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Unfortunately Sappi Saiccor has chosen to continue expanding its production capacity despite numerous promises that it would clean up its act.

Sappi Saiccor is at present (May 2012) trying to obtain an integrated waste management permit that if granted will likely rubberstamp its existing waste dumping and pollution of air and water.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Sappi Saiccor pulp mill pollution, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal
Location of conflict:Umkomaas
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Cellulose

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Sappi Saiccor mill has the capacity to produce 800 000 tonnes of chemical cellulose per annum.

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:more
Start of the conflict:1960
Company names or state enterprises:Sappi Saiccor from South Africa - Also known as Sappi Chemical Cellulose (South Africa, Hong Kong)
Relevant government actors:Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Water, Department of Environment, Industrial Development Corporation
International and Finance InstitutionsForest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Durban Community Environment Alliance (SDCEA), Timberwatch Coalition, Newhaven Ratepayers and Anti-pollution Watchdog Committee

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Community meetings to raise concerns. Petitions, newspaper reports. Letters of complaint.


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsThe Sappi Saiccor mill affects fish in the Mkhomazi river and marine life in the Indian Ocean where much of the mill effluent is dumped via a 6,5 km long pipeline.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Other Health impactsThe waste substances from the mill are disposed of in an irresponsible manner which resulits in air and water contamination through dust and leachate, that affect human health.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsThe overbearing presence of the mill and its polluting activities has created negative perceptions of the area and has certainly discouraged investment in local towns and villages affected by this.


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Negotiated alternative solution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The Sappi Saiccor mill could be decommissioned and replaced by an ecotourism industry.
Development of alternatives:Most local people wish that the existing legislation could be properly enforced, and that the mill would then stop polluting the area.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the bad publicity caused by the pollution and incidents of poisoning from accidents at the mill, Sappi Saiccor continues to pollute with impunity. Local peoples anger and unhappiness with the situation has been effectively neutralised by appeasement strategies used by the pulp mill to reduce opposition within the community. Small donations made by the company to local schools and community organisations have seemingly bought their silence.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Air Quality Act

Waste Management Act

Water Act

National Environmental Management Act.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

South Africa: Sappi Saiccor to expand its polluting pulp mill?

Other comments:The closure of the Sappi Saiccor mill would represent an opportunity to re-invent the local economy of the area, creating many more jobs and restoring the health of the environment.

Meta information

Contributor:Wally Menne
Last update20/05/2019